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One more characteristic of Poincare's outlook must be recalled
for completeness before we go on to his life: few mathematicians
have had the breadth of philosophical vision that Poincare hads
and none is his superior in the gift of clear exposition. Probably
he had always been deeply interested in the philosophical
implications of science and mathematics, but it was only in
1902, when his greatness as a technical mathematician was
established beyond all cavil, that he turned as a side-interest to
what may be called the popular appeal of mathematics and let
himself go in a sincere enthusiasm to share with non-profes-
sionals the meaning and human importance of his subject
Here his liking for the general in preference to the particular
aided him in telling intelligent outsiders what is of more than
technical importance in mathematics without talking down to
his audience. Twenty or thirty years ago workmen and shop-
girls could be seen hi the parks and cafes of Paris avidly reading
one pr other of Poincare's popular masterpieces in its cheap
print and shabby paper cover. The same works in a richer
format could also be found - well thumbed and evidently read-
on the tables of the professedly cultured. These books were
translated into English, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Swedish,
and Japanese. Poincare spoke the universal languages of
mathematics and science to all in accents which they recog-
nized. His style, peculiarly his own, loses much by translation,
For the literary excellence of his popular writings PoincarS
was accorded the highest honour a French writer can get, mem-
bership in the literary section of the Institut. It has been some-
what spitefully said by envious novelists that Pomca-re" achieved
this distinction, unique for a man of science, because one of the
functions of the (literary) Academy is the constant compilation
of a definitive dictionary of the French language, and the
universal Poineare* was obviously the man to help out the poets
and grammarians in then: struggle to tell the world what auto-
morphic functions are. Impartial opinion, based on a study of
Poincare's writings, agrees that the mathematician deserved no
less than he got.
Closely allied to his interest in the philosophy of mathematics
was Poincare's preoccupation with the psychology of mathe-